Potential Dangers of Spinal Injection Therapy

February 17, 2016

Spinal injections have become a common form of pain relief for Americans experiencing back and leg pain, and the treatments can provide the temporary relief necessary to continue with everyday living. However, there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that the risks associated with spinal injection therapy may not always be worth the temporary relief it provides. Although spinal injections are often performed, there’s a lot that patients may not know about the safety of undergoing this common procedure and the relief they might get from doing so.

Spinal Injection Therapy May Not Be as Safe or Effective as Many Believe

Spinal injection therapy involves the injection of corticosteroids—sometimes along with local anesthetics—into the epidural space in the spine. The procedure is intended to relieve pain, and it is often recommended for people suffering from back pain, leg pain, sciatica, and other conditions. However, patients undergoing spinal injection therapy should know that:

  • Epidural steroid injection is an off-label use. Most of the steroids currently in use are approved for relieving joint inflammation, but they have not been approved for epidural injections. While there are many drugs and therapies that medical providers may use for off-label purposes without a negative effect on the patient, it’s important to understand that off-label uses have not necessarily been thoroughly tested or specifically approved by regulators.
  • Injections may not provide significant pain relief. Dr. Steven P. Cohen, an associate professor of anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins, conducted a randomized trial of steroid injections for back pain in 2012. The results of the study were surprising: researchers found that steroid injection therapy may not offer as much relief for sciatica and back pain as medical providers originally thought. Dr. Richard Deyo, professor of Family Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, says that even though there has been an increase in the number of injections over the last decade, Social Security Disability records suggest “people with back pain are reporting more functional and work limitations, rather than less.” They are just two of many respected doctors who believe there are questions about the effectiveness of spinal injections over the other non-invasive medical alternatives available, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy, and other supervised therapies that can be used to treat back pain.
  • Providers don’t always have the training to perform spinal injections. Some figures suggest that, even though the numbers of spinal cord injections continue to increase annually, as many as one in five doctors are not properly trained to perform the medical procedure.

If you are considering spinal injection therapy for pain relief and have concerns about how it might affect you, don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor about what to expect, the risks, and why it was chosen over other potential treatments. For some patients, spinal injection therapy may be a good choice and provide the relief they need.

The Potential Risks of Spinal Injection Therapy for Back and Leg Pain

The risks of undergoing spinal steroid injection can vary based on the condition being treated, the exact drug being injected, and the technique used in the therapy. However, here are some potential risks of spinal injections:

  • Nerve damage
  • Paralysis
  • Strokes
  • Infections, such as fungal meningitis, which can spread through contaminated injection needles
  • Arachnoiditis, a painful condition that occurs when the membranes surrounding the nerves in the spinal cord become inflamed, which causes bladder dysfunction and nerve damage
  • Hemorrhages or nerve death when the injection needle misses its intended location and drugs are put into spinal fluid or arteries
  • Issues with preservatives found in the steroids clogging tiny blood vessels that feed the spinal cord

Because these injections have not proven to be effective in treating back pain when compared to the risks, medical providers across the country are pushing for safer and less invasive methods to relieve back pain. In recent years, efforts have been made to provide safer, particle-free steroids for spinal injections. However, evidence does not show that these drugs are providing any lasting relief compared to the more risky types available.

Getting Help If You Are Injured by an Epidural Steroid Injection

Providing relief from back pain, especially chronic back pain, can be a difficult task for doctors. Unfortunately, what works for one patient may not do much for another patient, and all the risks must be weighed before new therapies are prescribed. However, even when spinal injection therapy is a good option for patients, they should still be informed of the potential risks they face.

If you have been hurt after undergoing spinal injection treatments, you deserve answers about what went wrong. Our attorneys will take the time to understand your situation, answer your questions, and help you understand your legal options—all during a complimentary case evaluation. Under the law, patients who are hurt by medical errors, defective or untested drugs, or potential risks that are overlooked may have the right to pursue compensation for the resulting injuries. We regularly help victims of medical error in Illinois, and we have a long history of success. Talk to us today at 312-332-1400.

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